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SI.com's picks for playoff teams, Stanley Cup winner, breakout players, award winners and more.

By The SI Staff
October 03, 2015

With a new season upon us it is once again time for the high hockey foreheads here at SI.com to gaze into the future and antagonize the public with their crystal visions. Here’s what they foretell for the NHL's teams, players and coaches. 

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Playoff teams (In no particular order)

 

EAST

WEST

AL MUIR maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs
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CONF. FINALS

lightning capitals ducks blackhawks
SARAH KWAK maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs
maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs
maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs
maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs

CONF. FINALS

“penguins” “lightning” ducks “kings”
SAM PAGE maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs
maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs
maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs
maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs

CONF. FINALS

“islanders” “lightning” ducks “blues”
MIKE BLINN maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs
maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs
maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs
maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs maple leafs

CONF. FINALS

“capitals” “lightning” ducks “blues”

STANLEY CUP PICKS

ALLAN MUIR ducks

Why my pick will win: The Hawks and Kings can’t keep up this Cup rotation forever, right? Look, I love the way Stan Bowman and Dean Lombardi have built their teams and I would not be surprised in the least to see either of them win another title. But the Ducks are a team whose time has come.

After winning three consecutive Pacific Division titles, and then falling short three consecutive years in the playoffs, this group is ready to take the final step. It has terrific depth down the middle, with two elite centers in Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler who can go toe-to-toe with anyone. It’s deeper on the wings with the additions of speedy Carl Hagelin, big bodied Chris Stewart and savvy vet Shawn Horcoff. It’s loaded with young and improving talent on the blueline, with Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler providing smart, two-way play, while Kevin Bieksa brings some old-fashioned truculence.

The one question mark is in net where Freddy Andersen has to prove he can win 16 games in the spring. He might not seem to be the ideal option, but neither was Corey Crawford and he now has a pair of rings as a starter.

There’s also a sense of urgency behind the bench. Bruce Boudreau won’t survive another failure. Look for him to deliver his best effort yet.

SARAH KWAK ducks

Why my pick will win: O.K., so their goaltending is a soft spot. I see that. But with another full year of confidence-building starts for Frederik Andersen, I think he should be ready for postseason pressure by April. Anyway, he will only need to be “good enough” because the Ducks should be able to cover for him. For the last three years, they’ve gotten closer and closer—losing in seven-game series to eventual Cup winners in 2014 and ’15. The forward corps is big and strong; the Ducks added speed with Carl Hagelin. And their blue line is maturing exactly as planned. All the other big powers in the West took hits this off-season. Anaheim got stronger.

SAM PAGE islanders

Why my pick will win: You knew the Blackhawks’ various Cup-winning teams were deep when, every off-season following their win, they’d trade some role player and he’d instantly become a star on his new team—i.e. Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Nick Leddy, and Brian Campbell. The Islanders are graduating so many top forward prospects, they’ll soon be that team. One day, the Lee–Dal Colle–Barzal line will dominate for the Las Vegas Outlaws. In the meantime, they’ll help John Tavares be great.

MIKE BLINN islanders

Why my pick will win: The good old free-wheeling, fun-time-having Alex Ovechkin is back, and he’s got some company: Off-season acquisitions T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, along with the scarily still maturing Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky give the Capitals some pretty good depth up front that will only get deeper when Nicklas Backstrom is at full health. Todd Reirden rebuilt Washington’s defense into one of the NHL's best. Oh, and Braden Holtby? He elevates his game and turns into an unsolvable Rubix cube between the pipes. Expect a lot more toothless smiles.

BREAKTHROUGH TEAM

MUIR islanders

Not a particularly bold call, this one. The Jackets led the league in man-games lost to injury in 2014-15, scuttling their hopes for the playoffs, but won 15 of their last 17 games when they finally iced something approaching a full roster. If they can stay healthy (knock on wood), this is a team that can challenge for a division title. Adding Brandon Saad gives an already potent forward corps a huge boost but the real bump will be provided by Ryan Murray. The young blueliner has skated in just 78 games since being selected with the second pick of the 2012 draft. If he’s on the ice, he shores up Columbus’s one possible trouble spot.

KWAK islanders

I’m still amazed by their 15-1-1 run to close the season and think that is the team that will take the ice for 2015-16. So long as the Jackets avoid the injury plague that hit them last year (and what are the chances that kind of bad luck could happen again?), I expect them to comfortably make the playoffs and maybe even make a dark horse run through the East.

PAGE islanders

I’m not sure the Oilers can even “take the next step.” They’ve got to take the first step. But you can only have all the best young talent in the league and still be bad for so long. Who knew it would take an even younger kid to get all of Edmonton’s disappointing prospects going, but such is the transformative talent of Connor McDavid. In McDavid, GM Peter Chiarelli, and coach Todd McLellan, this franchise has a bunch of new employees who are not used to losing.

BLINN islanders

There’s speed, there’s depth, there’s dangle, and there’s even a little bit of swagger on this new-look Sabres team. The top six will be fun to watch, the patchwork defense has a chip on its shoulder and Robin Lehner gets the net all to himself. Oh, and then there’s that Jack Eichel kid. Don’t expect a playoff run, but maybe a little more competitive spirit out of a team that definitely wasn't tanking last season.

BREAKTHROUGH PLAYER

MUIR

Jonathan Drouin, LW, Lightning:

KWAK

David Pastrnak, RW, Bruins:

PAGE

Jonathan Drouin, LW, Lightning:

BLINN

Kevin Hayes, RW Rangers:

AWARD PICKS

 

MUIR

KWAK

PAGE

BLINN

HART

Ryan Getzlaf

Sidney Crosby

Sidney Crosby

John Tavares

ROSS

Tyler Seguin

Sidney Crosby

Sidney Crosby

Sidney Crosby

NORRIS

Roman Josi

P.K. Subban

Shea Weber

Kevin Shattenkirk

VEZINA

Braden Holtby

Pekka Rinne

Devan Dubnyk

Braden Holtby

CALDER

Connor McDavid

Connor McDavid

Connor McDavid

Connor McDavid

SELKE

Patrice Bergeron

Patrice Bergeron

Patrice Bergeron

Patrice Bergeron

ADAMS

Todd Richards

Jon Cooper

Todd Richards

Bruce Boudreau

FIRST COACH OR GM FIRED

MUIR

Mike Yeo, Wild:

But while he salvaged the team’s season, Dubnyk’s arrival masked several problems. The Wild still struggled with their defensive structure, and they rarely were a hard team to play against. Those are the sort of failings that will get a coach fired, so do the math. If Dubnyk is less than resolute, Yeo won’t make it past next January.

KWAK

Mike Yeo, Wild:

PAGE

Doug Wilson, Sharks:

BLINN

Doug Wilson, Sharks:

BIGGEST NAME TRADED

MUIR

Eric Staal:

KWAK

Steven Stamkos:

PAGE

A Staal: The biggest name traded will be Staal. Sorry—my clairvoyance only covers last names.

BLINN

Dustin Byfuglien:

I MAY BE CRAZY BUT ...

MUIR

There wasn’t a single defenseman that ranked among the league’s top-20 scorers last season. This time I predict there will be three: Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and John Klingberg.

KWAK

I don’t think this 3-on-3 overtime will be the end of shootouts. I think it’ll be mighty effective to start, but in the end, teams will figure out how to make it boring again. And we’ll be back to debating/loving/hating the shootout.

PAGE

The Maple Leafs will be in the race for the last wild card spot. So much of their recent problems could be pinned on bad coaching and they obviously hired a great one in Mike Babcock. Accounting for the coaching-180, the young talent on the roster, and the low bar for a postseason berth in the East, I think they’ll surprise pretty much everyone but hopelessly-optimistic Leafs fans.

BLINN

The newly-instituted Coach’s Challenge will have a corporate sponsor before the All-Star break, and yes ... it will be Draft Kings.

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